Published On: Thu, Feb 14th, 2013

Unions march on Bahamas parliament

bahamas unionsNASSAU, Bahamas -- Scores of irate former Wyndham Nassau Resort workers and leaders of several of the labour unions in The Bahamas on Wednesday marched on Parliament in protest of the layoff of 140 employees from the resort last week, demanding that the government intervene on the workers’ behalf.

Holding up placards and chanting, workers and union executives came between Prime Minister Perry Christie and the entrance of the House of Assembly as he made his way to the lower chamber.

Christie paused briefly to speak with Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union president Nicole Martin before entering Parliament, assuring her that the government was doing all it could, and promising to speak with her later.

Before Minister of Labour Shane Gibson entered Parliament, he told reporters that the recent layoffs are unfortunate when considering the concessions the government has given Baha Mar, but there is only so much the government can do.

“I don’t own Baha Mar,” Gibson said. “When you say, ‘Give assurances’, we can only do our jobs. Our job is to make sure we protect the workers through legislation and through any means possible legally.

“You don’t want me to tell them something today to make them feel good and tomorrow I can’t deliver on it. I don’t own Baha Mar.”

But Martin said she was less than confident that the labour minister was doing all he could.

“I am not satisfied with something said to a camera that sounds right,” she said. “At the end of the day we need to secure the employment and possibilities for employment for Bahamians -- all people able to work in The Bahamas.”

Union executives have said they are irate with Baha Mar’s management for not giving notice of the layoffs in accordance with the union’s industrial agreement.

On that point, Gibson said the problem exists because the agreement is not registered, something former chief shop steward David Beckford previously criticized.

“The [Industrial] Tribunal refused to register the agreement,” Gibson said.

“Since we have come to office, we have amended the law to allow for the registration of industrial agreements by the Registrar of Trade Unions rather than with the Tribunal because we saw the problems.

“We saw where about maybe 70 to 80 percent of the unions could not get their industrial agreements registered so we have corrected that problem already.”

However, Martin responded that the union was “living in the spirit” of that agreement up until last week.

“If the industrial agreement is not valid, is [Baha Mar’s] heads of agreement also not valid?” she asked. “I am not going to let anyone reduce this to union and employers; the government is a part of this.”

Several of the laid off workers interviewed by The Nassau Guardian said they wanted more support from the government and felt officials should stand up for them.

“All of our jobs and livelihoods are at stake because it is evident that when the employer says things, the next day when they wake up they change their minds,” said Kayla Green, a former Wyndham employee.

Sarah Smith, a Wyndham employee of 17 years, said, “Please give me my money what I deserve, you understand, because it is not easy, it is not easy.”

Lionel Miller, another former long-term Wyndham employee, said, “I don’t know who is looking out for our best interest, because it looks like [the government] is selling off our land with a fancy dream of hotel work and big work [but now] we have been pushed off that land.”

The prime minister has pledged to update the union following a meeting with Baha Mar chairman and CEO Sarkis Izmirlian sometime this week.

By Royston Jones Jr.
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter

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